A couple of boys take turns throwing alternating punches – jabs, upper cuts and hooks – ducking behind one another in quick succession as their blows are absorbed by the pads of Mahmoud Zahaby.
The group may not be big but they’re dedicated to getting better at boxing. Which is why they have started showing up to bi-weekly training sessions being offered by Zahaby
“What I find about boxing is it’s an independent sport, it’s not a team sport. It’s heavily reliant on your self so it builds that character,” said Zahaby at the start of the second workout.
Zahaby came to Rankin Inlet from Ottawa in April to help his dad run a bed and breakfast he owns in town. After a few months, he decided he wanted to do something to give back to the community.
Zahaby boxed competitively in his early twenties but stopped when he realized he wasn’t going to be able to fight at a higher level.
“If you’re not going to make a career out of it there’s no point to keep sparring and taking fights to take on that damage,” he said.
He never lost his love of boxing though, and teaching eventually became his way to stay connected to the sport.
“You’re able to still refine your skills without taking the punishment,” he said.
Shortly after arriving in Rankin, Zahaby approached the hamlet’s recreation co-ordinator David Clarke to see if there was any interest in setting up a boxing program before the end of the summer.
“I’ve been in boxing for quite a few years and I realize there was lots of spare time and there’s a lack of activities. It just popped in my head I started juggling for a few weeks then said I can either keep thinking about it or i can do something,” he said.
Zahaby starts every class with a warm-up session including stretching and skipping rope. He then dives right into the fundamentals of the sport, teaching participants about offence, defence, footwork and different kinds of punches.
Dorian Richardson has been to the first two sessions which have been offered so far. The 17-year-old said she has put on boxing gloves to fight with his cousins for fun but has never properly trained.
With just a bit of time spent with Zahaby he was already starting to get a better grasp of the technical elements of fighting.
“I wanted to learn more,” he said. “I want to become a good boxer.”
Zahaby will be starting up university in Ottawa at the end of summer but he said he’s hoping to come back next year to continue his boxing lessons in the community.
“What I see with people over the long run, it’s a very rewarding experience,” he said.
The boxing classes at the arena will continue on Mondays and Thursdays at 7 p.m. until the end of August. People of all skill levels and ages are welcome.